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What Google Search’s SSL Change Means for Your Blog

This guest post is by Oz of OzSoapbox.

Secure Sockets Layer (or SSL to you and me) is an encryption standard most of us are familiar with using whenever we do something over the Internet that needs enhanced security.

security

Image copyright Evgeniya Ponomareva - Fotolia.com

Whether it be banking, email, signing into a personal account, purchasing something, or any one of the dozens of things we do online daily with the potential to have our private data compromised, most Internet users are familiar with that little padlock symbol that appears every time we use SSL.

How SSL affects blog owners

In a recent update on their official search blog, Google has outlined plans to apply SSL to user search queries. Under the guise of privacy, Google claims that the addition of SSL will:

recognize the growing importance of protecting the personalized search results we deliver.

Increased privacy is all very well, but what will that mean for your blog?

Previously an opt-in option, it’s important to note that Google’s implementation of SSL in performed searches at this stage will only affect logged in users. That is, people with a Google Account who are logged intot hat account while searching.

So what kind of affected traffic are we talking about here?

Google’s Matt Cuts (head of web spam) told Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief at Search Engine Land, that he “estimated even at full roll-out, this would still be in the single-digit percentages of all Google searchers on Google.com.”

Less than 10% of Google search users have a Google Account? I can’t help but seriously question that.

Between Gmail, iGoogle, YouTube, and more recently Google+ (over 40 million at last count and climbing), pretty much anyone who uses a Google product has an account and, more than likely, will be signed in. Is this SSL implementation really only going to affect less than 10% of internet searches?

Leaving that doubt aside for a second, let’s get back to the question at hand: again, what does all of this mean for your blog?

The one thing you, the problogger, needs to take away from all this is that if you’re tracking your users via keywords (that is, seeing which keywords bring in the most traffic), the accuracy of your stats is going to take a massive hit.

Once Google flip the switch on SSL searches, logged in Google Account users who wind up your site via Google will no longer be passing on any keyword referral information.

In an industry where even a few percentage points can result in massive changes to SEO campaigns and blog content strategies, losing up to 10% of your keyword referral data is huge!

And you don’t need me to tell you how important traffic monitoring tools like Google Analytics are in managing and analysing your blog.

What can you do?

As a blog owner, what can you do about these upcoming SSL changes?

Unfortunately for now, not much.

Google seem to have made a final decision on this and will implement SSL searches for logged in Google Accounts over the coming weeks. Interestingly enough, despite Google citing increased privacy reasons as the backbone of their decision, keyword referral data will still be available to advertisers.

It appears that while your privacy is seemingly important to Google, it’s not important enough to cut off your search queries from advertisers’ prying eyes.

As a blog owners, all we can do for now is sit back and take the hit. A monthly report (30 days) of the top search queries that brought traffic to your site will be made available via Google Webmaster tools, but it’s a far cry from the level of data analysis most blog owners are used to.

That’s even more of an issue when you consider there’s only so much you can do with WebMaster Tools when compared to proper traffic analysis tools like Google Analytics.

Looking at the long-term effects here, if SSL encryption doesn’t cause any hiccups for logged-in users, I imagine it’s only a matter of time before it’s implemented permanently for every search Google processes.

Google themselves are clearly hinting at this on their own blog;

We hope that today’s move to increase the privacy and security of your web searches is only the next step in a broader industry effort to employ SSL encryption more widely and effectively.

What appears to be shaping up is a future divide between the needs of blog owners and the financial relationship between advertisers and search engines. And we all know who’s going to win that battle.

As blog owners, do we have a right to demand keyword referral information from the visitors browsing our blogs? Or, as the value of this referral information is slowly quantified and sold to advertisers, is it only a matter of time before we too will have to start paying for the stats we need to run our blogs as best we can?

Updated daily, OzSoapbox is a blog cataloguing life in Taiwan, the good times and the bad. Interrupted only by social commentary on current events facing Taiwan, feel free to drop on by and join Oz on his journey through this beautiful island.

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Comments

  1. cole says:

    While I’m not expert, I’m not surprised the the percentage of people who are signed into a Google account while searching is low. The world is not full of probloggers or even smartphone users. Just take a look at the number of people who had to sign up for a Google account just to use their new Android phone and still probably only use it for that purpose.

    However, this is sad for statistics, indeed.

  2. Ben Norman says:

    As much as I value the information I gain from Google Analytics I’ve never really like Google telling sites I visit what I search for. I’m therefore stuck in a bit of a quandary when trying to respond to this post.

    If Google ever do start to sell this information to website owners (which certainly mocks their reasons for removing it to begin with) I certainly think, almost no matter the price, that the data is worth it for any owners of medium to large websites. Compared to almost anything else I can think of, knowing what’s driving traffic to your site has got to be the most important thing you could invest in.

  3. Mike Carroll says:

    Interesting. I will have to stay updated on that.

  4. I’ve already seen this in action on my GAnalytics. Now I know why.

  5. TV Rockstars says:

    I think statistics will be hard to analyze. Google is already hard to because they’re making weekly changes lately.

  6. Milehimama says:

    Is this only affecting Analytics, or other stat programs? For example, with Sitemeter I can see the search strings for people coming to my site. Any idea?

    • OzSoapbox says:

      @Milehimama

      This will affect all stats programs. SSL encrypted searches block the website from knowing what the search term was that the web user used to find your site.

  7. Hari Narayan says:

    While I’m not expert, I’m not surprised the the percentage of people who are signed into a Google account while searching is low. The world is not full of probloggers or even smartphone users. Just take a look at the number of people who had to sign up for a Google account just to use their new Android phone and still probably only use it for that purpose.

    However, this is sad for statistics, indeed.

  8. Mark Aylward says:

    Even while not being very technical myself this is clearly the big boys swinging the big stick and another reason to move away from reliance on Goggle and the other monsters (can you say Facebook) as they continue to change the rules mid swim.
    Thanks for the heads up!
    Mark

  9. Rita says:

    Thanks for the interesting information. Just another way big corporations rule the world.

    Rita blogging at The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide

  10. Craig Parker says:

    This totally burns my backside; I knew it was coming a few days ahead of time and couldn’t believe when it finally did. Webmaster Tools was never in agreement with Analytics, so I’m not sure we were ever really getting good numbers.

    “…despite Google citing increased privacy reasons as the backbone of their decision, keyword referral data will still be available to advertisers…”

    This was what made me so angry. Almost a betrayed feeling. Aren’t we as Adsense publishers providing them with some lunch money? Advertisers get data, but not the publishers who show the ads? Meh?

    I’ve switched over to Statcounter with my newest site, and have changed my own default search engine to duckduckgo for now. I’d really rather find a search engine with a totally open source kind of attitude.

    I’m using Chromium as a browser, as I believe (at least until I find out otherwise) it’s not so Google-ized as regular Chrome.

  11. Sanjeev says:

    Getting an information regarding the incoming keywords is really important, it can be hard to do SEO optimization and other work to make sure that readers are getting what they are looking for….

  12. Rednights says:

    Clearly the advertisers are the good guys. I’m thinking most people aren’t perma logged into google services anyway.

  13. jamie says:

    I cannot accept this. Any business needs to understand its foot fall to provide the best user experience to its clients. Correct use of keyword data improves the quality of information of a visitors engagement! This will turn my world on its head. I can see a very challenging period ahead. I hope to god this information will not be sold back to up in the future, but that seems the logical next step!

  14. maque says:

    Thanks, Oz. I finally got the whole idea of the stuff happening in regards to the SSL thing. I’ve read a few posts elsewhere and I was not quite sure what it is all about. It looks that Google just wants everybody to be their paid customers.

  15. Scott Dudley says:

    I may be wrong here but I don’t think I need to be worrying about this because I use a Mac not a PC. Is it true that this is only a PC based issue.

    The fact that I was told that I don’t need virus protection for a Mac, suggests that the same thing probably applies to the issue of privacy.

  16. pete says:

    Am I reading that this doesn’t affect traffic stats, more the keywords used in the search that took them to your site?

    In that case is this scewing the stats from tools like market samurai etc which are used to determine if a keyword is worth going after or not?

    • OzSoapbox says:

      @Pete

      It will affect your traffic stats in that globally, any user logged into a Google Account will have all their keyword referral information marked as ‘(not provided)’ showing up. This is an agregate of all keywords searched by all searchers who are logged into a Google account.

      Raw traffic stats in a numbers sense remains unchanged as logged in visitors still count numerically as a visit.

      The demographic of people who use Google Accounts is varied and hard to analyse, but if a large cross section of Google Account holders are visiting your site, and this is providing you with a large revenue stream, it could spell disaster.

      Tools like Market Sumurai will in turn provide less accurate information as they have no way of accessing this data to analyse it and serve you accurate keyword analysis results. The more people logged into Google Accounts, the less accurate they become (at least on the ‘x amount of people searched for this keyword’ front).

      • pete says:

        I suppose at least most of us are on the same playing field and therefore being affected in the same way though it is nice to be able to forecast what your up against so you can adjust strategies accordingly.

        Yet another Google spanner in the works to worry about!

        Thanks for the education

        Pete

  17. Dawn Comber says:

    Hmmm, so many things I want to say. What happened to the “openness” of the web? Does it really exist? Based on your post, I would say not. Then I think, can we as website ‘owners’ and end users “Occupy-another-search-engine” til Google gets our point?

  18. Jay Castillo says:

    I guess this explains the “(not provided)” keyword showing up in the google analytics data for my blog. At least now I know… been wondering what this was for the past week.

    It appears this was rolled out last October 31, 2011. As of today, the “(not provided)” keyword in analytics is already the top keyword for my blog’s search traffic (most probably because it really is an aggregate of a bunch of keywords used by visitors logged-in to their google accounts when they arrived at my site).

    Although this is just a small percentage of my site’s search traffic (about 2%), I still want to find out what those keywords were. It’s like I’m “blind” and clueless to what brings in some of my traffic… and I can’t do anything about it at the moment…

  19. Joseph says:

    I’m always cautious when it comes to Google. Their methods are usually dubious and always designed to benefit their investors, thus all changes are intended to have a positive effect on the corporation’s bottom line. Diversification is necessary for success; there are many different ways to drive traffic including search engines that rival Google, social media, directory submissions and commenting on blogs/websites.

    • pete says:

      “Nail on the head”

      Thats why having a mix of sources in your strategy is so important. A bit like having a shop that sells one product to one set of clients

  20. Caleb says:

    Being that advertisers will still be able to see the data points to Google trying to get us hooked in to their Adwords system and of course to be an advertiser your account has to be funded…see the connection?!

    One way to stay up on their game is to start becoming highly active on Google Plus by posting frequent recent event type of content since the new Fresher update along with their Create a Business Page service will be large factors of how we get ranked.

  21. Christine says:

    Thanks so much for the great info. It makes sense the SSL changes will affect more that they let on.

    Privacy versus Traffic – quite the dilemma.

  22. krissy knox says:

    Thanks for the heads up. Not sure what we can do about it yet, but thanks for the information.

  23. James Greg says:

    I hope Google knows what its doing. Google already has most of the data and this new implementation would help no more than Google itself.

  24. This example of a constant stream of actions that Google is implementing to expand their influence across the internet. They’re rapidly becoming a monopoly but the fact that alternative search engines are available makes a difficult case for anti-trust violations. But their recent announcement regarding ads “above the fold” should give webmasters a clear indication of where Google is going with these changes.

    I’ve never been a huge fan of Google, their motto of “Don’t be evil” is misinterpreted by most people to mean that Google will act impartially; unfortunately, the term is relative and thus open to individual interpretation. It could be that Google regards “evil” as anything that goes against their objectives and those of their investors.

    For my part, I’ve been using Duck Duck Go as my primary search engine. Last October, I even installed their search box on my website’s left sidebar. I don’t put absolute trust in that search engine or its creator, but they say that they don’t collect or share user information. I’ve also found that Duck Duck Go returns reliable search results much moreso than Google.

    I believe in a clean and honest internet, thus far Google seems focused on just the opposite.

  25. Up until this decision Google seemed to be working quite well with website owners. This sure odes put a dent in our ability to stay ahead of the game.

  26. This (not provided) seems to be the top % of my key words… UG… any suggestions for another analytics program out there? I guess we could advertise each month.. I know the Google key word tool has more options for advertisers than it does for the regular folk..